Event: Pizza Talk: "An American Icon in Plastic: The Technical Analysis, Study, and Treatment of a First Edition 1959 Barbie"

Date & Time

May 17, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Contact Information

Matthew Swanson


Fowler A222

Event Type

Pizza Talk

Event Details

Speakers: Morgan Burgess and Marci Burton, M.A. Students, Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials, UCLA

This study focuses on a privately owned, autographed, first edition (c. 1959) BarbieTM doll made from poly(vinyl chloride) (PVC) plastic. Contrary to “sticky-leg syndrome”, where plasticizer migrates from the PVC and deposits to the surface as a tacky liquid, this doll exhibits a bloom of a fugitive, waxy, white solid on the legs from the mid-thighs to the ankles. In addition, the doll was autographed by Ruth Handler, the designer of BarbieTM and a cofounder of the Mattel corporation. Her signature and the date are now barely legible as the once sharp lines of ink have migrated within the PVC plastic.

Multi-spectral imaging and x-radiography were performed on the doll in order to non-invasively, non-destructively examine the plastic and gain an understanding of the manufacturing procedures. In addition, with collaboration from the Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) of the Smithsonian, computed tomography, Fourier transform Infrared spectroscopy, and Raman spectroscopy data were collected on the plastic components of the BarbieTM doll. The results collected from the analysis provided insight into the process of manufacture, material composition and structural integrity of the doll, as well as determined the agents of degradation and identified the waxy bloom compound observed locally on both PVC plastic legs, but absent on other plastic components of the doll. After the removal of the waxy bloom, the (c.1959) BarbieTM,  along with her clothing, accessories and case, was housed with archival materials and kept in a monitored environment to slow the degradation process and prevent another waxy bloom outbreak on the PVC plastic.